Hawkweed on march, 'hell to pay'


Appearances can be deceiving when it comes to the sweet-smelling, colorful hawkweed spreading around Haines.

The invasive flower is a pretty plant with flame-colored petals, but it releases toxins into the soil, effectively strangling other vegetation and threatening permanent changes to the local ecosystem.

Linnus Danner, who lives across from the Chilkat River on Mud Bay Road, was one of several local gardeners who regret falling under its appeal. About 15 years ago, Danner noticed the “cute little plant” out by the airport. She transplanted some to her garden.

“I planted it next to a rock in my yard and it was very pretty for a couple of years. Then I realized it was spreading and it hasn’t stopped,” Danner said.

Like a bad horror movie, when you pull one of the plants in an effort to get rid of it, three or four more pop up in its place. That’s because if any piece of the fibrous roots, however tiny, remains in the ground, the root fragment will sprout its own plant.

“It is on over a quarter of my acre and it killed all the grass. It took over the dandelions, the dogwood. It just consumes it,” Danner said. “It pretty much takes over everything. I’m really sorry what I did to my property. It’s overwhelming.”

The plant uses seeds, roots, and runners to proliferate, and can survive in most temperatures and conditions. It is also allelopathic, producing chemicals that inhibit surrounding plants from surviving and reproducing.

Lutak Road resident Sally McGuire said orange hawkweed invaded her garden near the Chilkoot River bridge about 10 years ago when it came in a wildflower mix she ordered over the Internet.

McGuire called the plant “a truly hellish weed” that gets out of control very quickly. “If you ignore it when it first shows up, you’ve got hell to pay.”

Though she’s tried to get rid of it for years, the hawkweed is still “way ahead of her,” McGuire said. What’s worked best is covering and smothering it with heavy black plastic, so the plant dies from lack of sunlight and decomposes, she said.

Judy Hall Jacobson, a botanist who started the Haines Invasive Plants Working Group and wrote the handbook “Native Plants of Southeast Alaska,” called the hawkweed “insidious” and “the worst of the invasives.”

In addition to posting signs around town educating people about its detrimental effects, Jacobson and the group has spent hours in recent weeks pulling it from the Chilkat River mud flats along Mud Bay Road.

“We’re trying different things. At first we were just trying to pull the whole plant root and all, but then we noticed them going to seed, so we started pulling the stalks,” Jacobson said. “We’re going around the perimeter and getting the plants where they are trying to spread out.”

  “The hawkweed is getting into wetlands and wiping out the paintbrush and irises. It forms a thick mat and it just kills everything,” Jacobson said

Highly invasive species like orange hawkweed threaten native plants more than less invasive weeds like dandelions, though people might notice dandelions more.

“It’s just important to keep native plants alive because our whole ecosystem will change if the native plants are gone. And it’s happening,” Jacobson said. “This is going to be years, getting rid of this.”

The invasive plant working group is also trying to get property owners to give permission for the group to remove plants on private land.

Takshanuk Watershed Council’s education coordinator Pam Randles said a big part of solving the problem is teaching people about the noxiousness of orange hawkweed compared to other weeds.

“People get upset about dandelions, but dandelions don’t march into forests and they don’t compete with berry bushes for pollinators,” Randles said. “(Orange hawkweed) will just outcompete everything that is in a particular place, and they can be things that we care about like berry bushes, but they can also be food for the animals that we’re used to seeing.”

Randles said Haines has the third-largest number of invasive species in the state, possibly because of the town’s role as a hub for transporting goods and people via the Haines Highway and ferry system.

Hawkweed is prevalent out Mud Bay Road and up Young Road, but also lines the Haines Highway, she said.

Randles said she’s had luck killing hawkweed by digging up its root mat, which goes down about half a foot. Mats should be thrown in garbage bags and left to rot, because burning them or attempting to compost them will just allow them to get back in the ground.

Chemical glyphosate, also known as Roundup, can also be used with caution, Randles said. “You have to be very careful, because it can kill things you don’t want to kill. It’s indiscriminate.”

For more information on orange hawkweed and other invasives, visit http://www.alaskainvasives.org or call 766-3542.


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